Sunday 23 July 2017

I want it all ... and I want it NOW

Ballot papers: the general election takes place on Friday.
Ballot papers: the general election takes place on Friday.

John Masterson

To vote next Friday one has to be 18 years old. There have been discussions about lowering this age limit. It is ironic that you have to be an adult to vote because, so far as I can see, the default position of the main political parties is to treat us as children. I am regularly reminded of the famous 'deferred gratification' experiment carried out by social psychologist Walter Mischel in Stanford University in the 1970s and of the many follow ups conducted since.

It takes children time to learn self control. A mark of mature adults is that they are able to resist temptation and think of the long term consequences of behaviour. Mischel carried out his experiments with many children aged between four and six. It was simple. They were placed in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. They could eat it if they liked, BUT, if they waited 15 minutes, they would be given a second one as well.

Children use all sorts of routines. They face away. They cover their eyes. They try to distract themselves. Some even rub the marshmallow affectionately. Some give in to temptation... About one third hold out. In follow up studies it is apparent that the children who do well on resisting temptation also tend to do well in later life on important indices like happiness and health. They are more competent.

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